Legislative politics hit the road Sunday as Republican and DFL lawmakers stood at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport publicly urging one another to acquiesce to their solutions to Minnesota's Real ID problem.
Elected officials are running out of time to reach an agreement before a January 2018 deadline to comply with a federal law intended to tighten security of driver's licenses and other forms of identification — known as Real ID — or Minnesotans will have to use a passport, a special enhanced driver's license or some other acceptable federal ID to get through airport security or to enter certain federal facilities.
The battle has both sides trying to use legislation on the issue as a chance to clarify whether undocumented immigrants might one day be able to obtain Minnesota driver's licenses.
At a news conference called by House Republicans on Sunday, Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, accused DFL Gov. Mark Dayton of playing politics by urging Senate DFLers to block a bill that would make Minnesota licenses federally compliant while allowing drivers to opt out if they have security or privacy concerns.
"This is something that obviously is an urgent need," Daudt said to a group of reporters called to the airport's mezzanine level overlooking ticketing agents and security lines. "Unfortunately the governor has decided to use this issue as a vehicle to pass controversial driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants."
A House bill, passed in February, contained language firming up a current Department of Public Safety (DPS) practice not to issue driver's licenses to Minnesotans in the country illegally, making it a law instead of a rule.
The Senate version did not directly address the issue of licenses for those illegally in the country, though Democrats contend that language implying something similar was included.
Five members of the Senate's Republican majority joined DFLers in rejecting the bill on a 38-29 vote March 6.
While Daudt, House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, and Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, said the Senate bill separates the immigration issue from the federal identification compliance issue, a team of DFL legislators waited in the wings to counter their message.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, took a turn before the microphones, saying an amended version of the bill he offered on March 6 fulfilled federal Real ID requirements but was "completely silent on the subject of who could and couldn't get a driver's license if they don't have legal presence in the state of Minnesota." Thirty-three DFLers voted for the bill, but 34 votes were needed.
"Only one Republican needed to vote yes in order for us to be done with this silly discussion and be on with the business of passing Real ID and making sure that we're in compliance," Dibble said, speaking along with DFLers Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis and Sens. Susan Kent of Woodbury and Jim Carlson of Eagan.
Democrats and a handful of GOP lawmakers, as well as some in law enforcement, say licensing undocumented immigrants would improve road safety by ensuring all drivers are properly road-tested and can obtain insurance.
Dayton has made it clear that he wanted any Real ID law this year to include a measure allowing the DPS to issue driver's licenses to people who are in the country illegally. He had urged the Senate DFL caucus to push the driver's license issue in exchange for their votes.
Dayton's office issued a statement Sunday morning saying he would sign whatever Real ID bill the House and Senate send him. "The real question is: why the Republican-controlled Legislature can't pass a REAL ID bill?" the governor's office statement said.
The Legislature passed a law in 2009 that prevented the state from implementing the federal law to protest what some state lawmakers said was federal government overreach.
The dispute over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants was the major barrier to passage of a Real ID compliance law in 2016.